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5 things to watch as officials take the field in 2017

Here’s what I’m looking for as I zebra watch this year.



Steve Sanders/NFL

It’s back. Another NFL season is here and I can’t wait. The NFL officiating crews are ready too.

As the season kicks off I’m watching for five things out of the officials.

Meet the new boss

The new senior vice president of officiating is Al Riveron. He has experience, having been Dean Blandino’s assistant for several years. 

How will he make his mark? What are his goals? Will he move to make an imprint on mechanics or staff? 

Riveron has a good team helping him, and I have high hopes that he will succeed in this position.

10-second runoff impact

This year, the NFL expanded the 10-second runoff rule. Now the runoff rule will go into effect beginning at the two-minute warning, instead of the last minute. 

If a team faces a 10-second runoff, they will have to take a charged time-out to avoid the runoff. If a team has to take a timeout, that will directly impact their two-minute drill. Let’s see what, if any, impact this rule will have.


The NFL is extending the kickoff touchback rules for another year. It is obvious the NFL wants to do away with kickoff for many reasons–mostly safety related–but also because the NFL things kickoff touchbacks are boring.

I predict the NFL will continue to phase out kickoffs after scoring plays. Let’s see how many touchbacks we have this year.

Safety and sportsmanship

The NFL has a point of emphasis in 2017 that allows officials to eject players for “egregious” hits. NCAA players are regularly ejected for targeting fouls, but now the NFL is giving officials the option to eject a player for a particularly flagrant foul. 

Officials have tossed players for flagrant fouls in the past, but it’s been rare. We’ll see if it stays rare this year.

The NFL is making permanent the rule that ejects a player if they pick up two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Head coaches are also subject to the ejection provision. Head coaches rarely pick up unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, and not a single one has been ejected. I hope the officials crack down and penalize unsportsmanlike conduct.

Centralized replay

The NFL will have centralized replay this year. Under the hood is gone. Officials will look at the replay with tablets. Al Riveron’s crew will conduct reviews at NFL headquarters. 

Here’s what to look for: if there are multiple replay challenges taking place at once, how will Riveron and company handle it? Will some referees have to take a number and wait? Will replay decisions be more consistent from game to game? Let’s watch and see. 

Super Bowl Predictions

Every year I predict the Super Bowl crew, it usually ends up being a kiss of death. So, with apologies to the following officials, I predict the Super Bowl LII crew will be:

  • Referee: Tony Corrente
  • Umpire: Paul King
  • Down Judge: Mike Spanier
  • Line Judge: Julian Mapp
  • Field Judge: Rick Patterson
  • Side Judge: Gary Cavaletto
  • Back Judge: Tony Steratore


  • Referee: Gene Steratore
  • Umpire: Carl Paganelli
  • DJ/LJ: Ed Camp
  • FJ/SJ: Laird Hayes
  • Back Judge: Greg Wilson.

To quote former referee Red Cashion, “Gentlemen, let’s play football!”

Photos: Steve Sanders/NFL, Houston Texans


Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"